Snowboarding isn't dead — far from it. Despite what many pessimistic Peters may have told you, there are some places in the US where riding is ascendant, powered by innovative, scrappy entrepreneurs and die-hard, passionate riders who’ve mostly moved on from the staple brands of yesteryear.
No region epitomizes this movement better than the West Coast, and in particular, Bend, Oregon, where in recent years the area has become a snowboarder’s promised land in an otherwise stagnant era. Leading the charge as one of Bend’s pioneering outdoor startups, Snoplanks has been a huge part of this movement, breaking trail and proving-out a model where boutique-level craftsmanship — not what’s trendy — is again a top priority.
A powder hero Surfing the Earth in a volcanic mountain range near you. Jon Tapper photo.
“People in Bend love riding,” Snoplanks founder and shaper James Nicol told TGR during an interview. “Bend’s attracting those young, go-getter types that are very focused on snowboarding, and they’re putting their mindset toward building successful brands that are based here. … Bend has become the epicenter for that outdoor entrepreneurial spirit.”
Conceived in 2012 on a Mt. Bachelor chairlift, Snoplanks has made a name for itself by handcrafting bamboo snowboards, skis and skate decks that come in both edgeless (for the bootpack) and edged (for the resort) varietals. Combining ecologically sound construction with a renewable bamboo-sourcing scheme, the company has seen a giant leap in popularity over the past few years.
Oregon powder zen = Snoplanks Model A. Jon Tapper photo.
According to Nicol, Bend is different because it has the energy and infrastructure set up to help young businesses grow. “We’ve got an outdoor incubator, Bend Outdoor Worx, that we went through. They ... really try to springboard the businesses to the next level. A lot of badass local companies have gone through that. Whether you’re starting an outerwear brand, a ski brand, or a surf brand, anything like that, there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration and coaching with people that have done it already.”
Not just a place where business is booming, Oregon has also become a training ground for some of the best riders on the planet. "There were four Bend riders coming in the top ten at the Mt. Baker banked slalom this year," Nicol said. "There’s that much talent coming out of here. It’s cool to see, and it definitely creates a community around snowboarding and skiing."
Starting last summer, Snoplanks began collaborating and building bamboo skate decks with another one of Bend’s notable citizens, surf legend and master shaper Gerry Lopez. Utilizing leftover bamboo from wintertime ski/board manufacturing, Nicol and Lopez took one of Lopez’s discarded surfboard designs and downsized it to become the template for Snoplanks' bestselling Street Surfer skate deck series.
I like to have them to look at and touch, same thing with the skateboards — they’re works of art.
“He said he was gonna make some skateboards,” Lopez recalled, “and I showed him some outline drawings that I’d never used, and said, ‘if you’re interested in using any of those, go for it.’ So he made a bunch of cool skateboards, and they kinda took off — my son rides one, but I don’t. I’m kinda like a glass ball — if I fall down I’ll probably shatter.”
Central Oregon serving up doses of shred nirvana via the Snoplanks/Gerry Lopez Street Surfer. Lane Pearson photo.
Gerry, himself a passionate snowboarder and pow hunter, first met Nicol while staging his namesake Big Wave Challenge event at Mt. Bachelor, and since has become a big fan of the growing hometown snowboard company.
“I love the wood,” the surf godfather told TGR. “Wood is really, really hard to work with. People that are able to do quality work with wood fascinate me. I build surfboards, I’ve been doing that for almost 50 years, and it’s so much easier to work with foam than it is with wood, there’s no comparison.
“They ride great, but look even better!” Lopez continued. “I like to have them to look at and touch, same thing with the skateboards — they’re works of art.”
Coming to a Quiver Near You
Elena Pressprich feels the stoke during a ski tour on the Snoplanks SnoSticks. Anna Jacobs photo.
Snoplanks sells a premium product for a premium price, so in an effort to make their hard goods available to the masses, the company recently implemented a new way to sell their equipment.
“We realize we have a high-end product that’s not readily available to everybody who wants it,” Nicol acknowledged. “We were looking for a solution so we could make it easier for people who didn’t just have $850 to throw at a piece of equipment.”
We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get on our boards.
As a solution, Snoplanks partnered with digital financing firm SpitIt, and has begun offering their customers the option of paying in installments, staggering the total cost of a plank over the course of a year and making the premium $850 price tag more palatable to the common dirtbag.
“If we can provide the ability to get on our site, purchase one of our boards that you’ve been lusting over for a long time — but allow you to do it under your terms — it opens up a whole different audience and demographic. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get on our boards.”
Pete Alport photo.